O.P. Jindal University hopes to challenge the status quo in law and legal reform, says C. Raj Kumar.
Kumar: Well, the O.P. Jindal Global University is essentially, in some ways, a global university that is being established in India with a view to promoting excellence in teaching and research and, in some ways, advancing the dream of India becoming a knowledge economy and to take the higher education frontiers of India to another level. But, more importantly or more relevant for the current discussion which we’re having, is the first school under the O.P. Jindal Global University, which is the Jindal Global Law School. Now, it is important for me to give you some background information that this O.P. Jindal Global University is established through a very generous donation by Mr. Naveen Jindal, who is a steel tycoon but also, more importantly, he is also an elected member of Parliament from India. And because of his leadership and his commitment to corporate philanthropy, he has, you know, envisaged the establishment of a full-fledged, multi-faculty university, with the first initiative to be the Jindal Global Law School. Now, the Jindal Global Law School, the main focus of Jindal Global Law School is to establish a law school in India which will, in some ways, challenge the status quo relating to law and legal reform and institutional reform by, in some ways, enhancing the quality of legal education and research. Now, one of the major challenges which, in legal education, that India is facing for the last several years has been that we’ve not been able to have good faculty in our institutions, and, obviously, the implication of this is that the kind of legal education that is imparted in India is not, in some ways, comparable to the kind of legal education that is imparted in the best of the law schools in many parts of the developed world. And it is our intention to create such an institution in India so that it gives an opportunity for people in India and all over the world to come and study law and many other sort of inter-disciplinary subjects in this school. Now, why law… legal education and law reform is important is that India has [huge] challenges for enforcing and building a rule of law society. Although we are a very vibrant democracy, we are still having a wide range of challenges to enforce the law, and one of the reasons we’re having this challenge, and some of us very strongly believe, is that we need to have a far more rigorous training as far as legal education is concerned, and the kind of legal education that we’re imparting to our students who are going to become lawyers and who are going to participate in creating a better society is to highlight these aspects in the legal training. So what we perceive at Jindal Global Law School is that we’re not in the task of, you know, training lawyers to just take up jobs in the legal sector. The role of a lawyer in a society is much bigger, and lawyers in other societies have traditionally played that role. That role might have diminished because of what the society has attained in the years, in many years, but if you look at the [IB] face of many developed societies, in those societies, lawyers have played an important role in creating legal institutions, establishing a rule-of-law society, and, in some ways, participating in the larger governance agenda of a country. I mean, in the US itself, we have, you know… Now, you have elected President Obama, who happens to be a lawyer, and one of the things which is also part of our agenda is that to bring in the larger product of leadership within legal training. Unfortunately, this is an area which has been neglected and Indian universities have not been successful to, in some ways, train and create leaders who can, you know, assume a leadership role to build this, build our nation. And one of the things which we hope to achieve through the Jindal Global Law School is also to examine and to develop how lawyers can play a leadership role within a society.
Question: From where will you draw the faculty
Kumar: Well, in fact, as I just said, the reason we are looking at the best of the faculties that we believe that higher education institutions like the Jindal Global Law School and O.P. Jindal Global University are to substantially commit itself to research, writing, and scholarship. If you look at the best of the universities in the world, not just in the US, whether you take Harvard or Yale or Stanford or Oxford or Cambridge or other universities, at the higher education level, the emphasis has been on scholarship, research, and writing. And, of course, teaching is always an important role for any academic, but one should not undermine the role of research and, in many ways, the higher the educational level one attains, research becomes more and more important because the academics are all the time should be called upon to bring in great ideas to solve the biggest problems of humankind. Now, if … And with that goal, we are very conscious of the fact that the challenges to attract faculty is a bit large in India. Now, it’s important to give you some background information why this challenge is [quite large] and it is, it’s felt … this challenge is not only felt in India. You’ll find the situation, similar situations, prevailing in many countries, including in the US. Of course, the gravity of the challenge is much more in developing countries. Now, what has happened is that in the last 2 decades or so, the legal profession in India has increasingly become a very lucrative profession, and so the bright and the brilliant law graduates from Indian law schools are increasingly choosing career paths ranging from working for a corporate law firm in India or outside India, doing a Masters Degree outside and staying back to work at a law firm or multi-national corporations, or into governmental organizations or many other career paths, excepting academia in India. Now, there are a variety of reasons why this is the case. I mean, obviously the compensation regime that prevails, that rewards our academics as very low. We have to improve that, and we are working on it. When I say ‘we,’ the country is working on it at the governmental level as well, recognizing that our teachers have to be paid more. There is also an issue of mediocrity, which is settled in many of our institutions, because of which there is so little scope for career growth, career development, and there is little inspiration and motivation that prevails within academic institutions to nurture scholarship. So we intend to address that, and one of the ways by which we intend to address this is that, from the beginning, we are very conscious that if you want to create a good institution, it will significantly depend upon its faculty, and because of the fact that this institution is a private university and a private law school and the donor, Mr. Naveen Jindal, is absolutely committed to quality and educational excellence, we are in a position to, in some ways, create that intellectually vibrant environment within that institution which will be able to attract the best and the brightest people from all over the world. We also hope to make our compensation significantly higher than what, that is prevailing, currently prevailing in public universities in India and probably other private universities in India. Here, we, with a view to recognizing that whatever we pay for our faculty to come and teach at our school, the best and the brightest people could have probably made much more in private sector or in corporate law firms. We, obviously, are not in a situation to ever match with them, but we definitely want to recognize that the academics deserve encouragement, need that kind of an environment where they can grow, they can produce, they can create scholarship, and ultimately, the scholarship has to benefit the society at large, and that’s the biggest project which we’re having, which is to see to what extent our research is application-oriented, to what extent it can solve the problems of the society, be it in the area of corporate law, be it in the area of human rights, be it in the area of technology law, be it in the area of intellectual property rights. So our school is expected to be very multi-disciplinary in its approach. It also has to… Its agenda is to develop a wide range of research centers which will sort of encourage research at all levels. One of the problems, again, if I may say that, is that the… traditionally, there has been a bias in favor of pursuing research relating to public law, that is constitutional law, administrative law, and including human rights and other areas, and because of which we don’t have, you know, serious academics in Indian institutions who have any sound expertise in the field of corporate law, you know, intellectual property law, even trade law, and corporate governance, and all these areas. And these are very important areas and are, in some ways, going to shape the future of our, of all our societies and address many of the problems which we are facing even today. Now, if you look at the best of the law schools in the US, and again, I would like to draw the example of Harvard Law School or Yale Law School, NYU or Stanford, you’ll find the best of the academics in all these areas of law. So it’s not the case where if you are good in human rights, you probably have to ignore corporate law. That’s not the case at all. I mean, Harvard has some of the best professors in the field of human rights as it is in the field of corporate law and corporate governance. And that happens, in some ways, because of the commitment to excellence that the faculty and school ought to have, and that’s the inspiration we have drawn from these institutions and we intend to implement that in our institution, that is the Jindal Global Law School.
Question: How do you effectively draw faculty from abroad?
Kumar: Well, you know, we are very fortunate that since the inception of this idea, almost, say, 2 ½ years back, we’ve got phenomenal support from US law schools. The, almost over 2 years back, I consulted an international board of advisors which myself and a professor from Yale’s Law School, Peter Schuck, we co-chair it, the members of this international board of advisors, a number of them are professors at Harvard, Yale, NYU, Oxford, you know, and other law schools all over the world. This almost started 2 years back and in the last 2 years, our interaction with these law schools have increased significantly that in this year alone, in my previous visit, when I had an opportunity to talk and give seminars at Yale, NYU and Harvard, this resulted in we establishing concrete forms of collaboration with Harvard Law School, NYU School of Law, Yale Law School, along with a number of other schools in the US, and of course Australia and UK and other parts of Asia as well. And the first thing which I have noticed is that there is a, there is… the people who have come forward to associate with us in this initiative have been themselves committed to creating excellent institutions globally. And, to start with, they have built an excellent institution in this country and the commitment has been to see to it that other countries, including India, get an opportunity to build amazing and good institutions, and that’s the remarkable encouragement and support which I’ve received from a number of professors in these institutions. Now, what is even more, I would say, encouraging for us at the Jindal Global Law School is that this support was not just through word of mouth. We have received formal letters of collaboration, evincing interest to collaborate with us on a wide range of areas. To give you an example, we’ve got letters from the Vice Dean of Harvard Law School, from the directors of several programs at Yale and Harvard and NYU, to specifically evincing interest to collaborate with us on faculty exchange, student exchange, joint teaching, joint research, curriculum development, summer programs with our students coming and spending a period of time here and the students from here coming and spending a period of time at Jindal Global Law School. The librarians of Harvard Law School, Yale Law School and the NYU School of Law have been extremely supportive to us by giving us the relevant information and pretty much to help us build a global law library at Jindal Global Law School. And this is in all in the true spirit of global institution building which these institutions have committed themselves to, and I’m extremely grateful to the deans of these three law schools at least but also many other law schools in the country who have come forward to help us. Now what is in it for them? One of the things which they feel is that, one is that a world-class institution in an important country like India would greatly benefit for the creation of knowledge, and that itself is a noble objective which academics are committed to, and the second important objective is that many of the institutions are now engaged in a wide range of issues relating to comparative law, international or trans-national law, legal education is globalized, no longer our education can focus on one country or one jurisdiction’s problems. There is so much of overlap between the issues that can prevail, that can affect one country, and it is important for our students to have global exposure of issues. So I’m looking at a number of faculty members from these law schools in the US to come and spend a period of time at our law school and, in due course, our faculty members can also come and teach and do research here.